A little over a year from now, the British & Irish Lions will embark on their tour to South Africa to take on the reigning world champion Springboks.
The Lions finished the 2013 tour to Australia with a 2-1 series victory before splitting the 2017 series in New Zealand 1-1-1. To keep the unbeaten streak alive, the Lions will need to bring a massively physical effort if they're to withstand the brutality of South Africa over three games.
Head coach Warren Gatland, in charge of his third B&I Lions tour, will surely look to field a side chalked full of physicality, but possessing enough firepower to put points on the board.
As we all saw in the World Cup final when the Boks manhandled England, South Africa will back itself on winning the collisions, controlling the set piece, and dominating territory.
It's truly far too early to make these decisions, but if the first test was this weekend, here's how we'd pick the Lions:
1. Mako Vunipola | England
Vunipola is the definition of a workhorse, consistently posting double-digit tackle counts for England, while also serving as one of the best front row ball carriers in the world.
2. Ken Owens | Wales
In a series that will be as physical as this one, you've got to play your hardest men. Ken Owens exemplifies toughness, relentlessness, and aggression, and you'll only ever see him going full tilt.
3. Kyle Sinckler | England
Devastated to have been knocked out in the opening minutes of the World Cup final, nobody will be chomping at the bit for a crack at the Boks more than Sinckler. He's physically one of the best props in the world, but what sets him apart from the pack is his incredible ball skills and ability in open play.
4. Maro Itoje | England
A potential captain for this tour, there's likely to be no more important player on the pitch than Itoje. A complete game-wrecker on defense and a master in the set piece, he is on his way to becoming the best player on the planet.
5. Alun Wyn Jones | Wales
This will almost certainly be Alun Wyn Jones' fourth and final tour with the Lions, but the Welsh skipper is still at the peak of his powers. Look no further than the 2019 year to see that AWJ is still among the best leaders and all around figures in the game of rugby.
6. Tom Curry | England
England employed two openside's throughout the World Cup, and the results were magnificent. 21 year old Tom Curry established himself as one of the best back row players on the planet, particularly through his work at the breakdown.
7. Justin Tipuric | Wales
Having been in Sam Warburton's shadow for so long, Tipuric finally stepped into the spotlight in 2019 and was nothing short of spectacular. He never misses a tackle and has the skills and speed to play anywhere.
*Could very easily move Curry to #7 and sub the in-form CJ Stander in at #6.
8. Billy Vunipola | England
Billy V had a tough go of it against the Springboks last time out, but there's nobody in the home nations that gets the team forward as well as Vunipola. He will be itching to get some revenge against South Africa.
9. John Cooney | Ireland
This pick may come as some surprise, given that Conor Murray is still the starter for Ireland, but anyone who watches the Guinness PRO14 can tell you that the best player over the past few seasons has been Ulster's John Cooney. He's a true leader, a spark plug, and a sharpshooter with the boot that is someone the whole team can and will rally around in South Africa.
10. Owen Farrell | England
Farrell brings the physicality and the territorial control that the Lions are going to need of their fly-half. He's both a cool customer and a motivator at the same time, and his kicking for goal will be vital.
11. Josh Adams | Wales
Adams exploded in 2019, leading the World Cup with seven tries and helping Wales to a Six Nations Grand Slam. The winger scores against the best of the best, and when Wales took on South Africa in the World Cup semi-final, Adams was a bright spot, gaining most of Wales' meters and notching a try.
12. Manu Tuilagi | England
An absolute unit, Tuilagi has the power and mobility necessary to combat the Springboks in the midfield. He may not be the best distributor, but in a grinding series as this figures to be, his role will simply ask that he carries hard and gets the team over the advantage line.
13. Jonathan Davies | Wales
Davies suffered a knee injury in the before the quarterfinals of the World Cup, and though he made it back for the semis, he damaged it enough to see him miss all of 2020. If he makes it back in time, he's a lock at outside center, having been the man of the tour in 2017.
14. Liam Williams | Wales
Another standout from the 2017 tour, Liam Williams has proven the importance of aerial prowess in the big test matches, even earning the nickname "Professional Bomb Defuser". He's also outstanding with ball-in-hand and if healthy should be in the starting XV.
15. Stuart Hogg | Scotland
Hogg was incredibly unfortunate to be knocked out of the 2017 tour early on with a head injury in the warm up clashes, but in 2021 he figures to be a pivotal figure for the Lions. He's greased lighting with the ball and one of the most experienced fullbacks in the game of rugby.